Tag Archives: Rockford

‘Look at these things that are where they are’: January pocket pages

Snow drift as a moon rise. 20 Jan.

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Everything lasts just a moment — specifically, here, I mean the laughs after a joke, the cry after a drama scene, the blown-mind after hearing a new idea. These all last only briefly. After that moment, I might remember that an artwork is good without feeling that first-moment reaction. 6 Jan. 2019.

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“I’m bad at walking, buddy,” I told my dog, Sam, when I slipped on the hardwood floor near our blue couch and he, on the couch, looked up as startled. 6 Jan.

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Lights around a city-owned treetrunk. 2 Jan.

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If “I don’t care” means almost the same as “I don’t mind,” then “care” would be a synonym for “mind” — caring is akin to paying attention? (In the movie “Lady Bird,” a character says that paying attention is the same as loving something.) 7 Jan.

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As of this January 2019, I have outlived Thoreau,who died at age 44. Fitzgerald was 44, also. I learned this weekend that I’ve also outlived Kierkegaard, who died at 42. George Gershwin didn’t make it to 40. Of course these people are each more accomplished than I am, but, in a petty way, I feel good about having outlived them. I have a chance to keep thinking, keep learning, and perhaps to become more wise, more thoughtful than any of these dudes were. I also realized recently that Heidegger was only about 38 when he published Being and Time. I was intimidated by that work when I was an undergrad, but now that I’m older than he was when he wrote it, I feel I might have enough wisdom to understand it — or to dismiss it as not all that important!  9 Jan and late Jan.

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Sharply drifted snow. 20 Jan. 2019

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We don’t get to make many choices about our families. We don’t get to choose our parents or any other ancestors. We get to choose our romantic partner, and we choose to have kids (but we don’t get to choose the kids’ personalities or other qualities). And the choices we do make, we often make at a fairly young age, and then live with the consequences the rest of our lives. 9 Jan.

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An aspect of being in a location near-but-not-within a town — for example, being a couple miles outside of a small prairie town — is that distance, seeing that distance one is away from the landmark, is part of the experience of being at that location. When you’re in the town already, or when you’re in a forest, or other vision-limited place, you don’t experience distance. Also, when I’m looking at a town from a distance, it might as well be a landscape painting — it’s not real from a distance. Work happens up close. 10 Jan. & 16 Jan.

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The process of memorizing a poem — all these quasi-thoughts, demi-thoughts. On my my way home from work today, I memorized Shakespeare’s “When in the chronicle” sonnet, and in the act of memorizing, I noticed many things: there are maybe many views, concepts, of the poem helping me get it into my head, such as a four-line structure (from “when…” to “then…”); how “praise” is in there three times; the dismissive tone of “wasted time, … ladies dead and lovely knights; the contrast of “our time … you prefiguring.” Basically, memorizing is a way to get a close reading of a text, but also, it seems my memorized version might subtly include some of these structural pattern realizations/insights listed above. 11 Jan.

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As a real middle-ager, nearing age 45, maybe I should challenge myself to do things beyond my routine — read philosophy, memorize poems. My routine may not be satisfying enough. 11 Jan.

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Snow drift topography. 20 Jan.

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“God, use common sense,” said a high school student to another outside after school. She said “God” more as an interjection, but I thought of it, amusingly, as direct address. 14 Jan.

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I’m tired of meaning things, asserting things through public writings. Don’t preach — let cool ideas seep through your blog posts of journal texts, off-handedly. I don’t have anything that I need to say to a general audience. Also, I don’t have to have a certain tone — just be interesting, no? Switching topics is OK! I do look forward to the regularly published columns of a few particular writers, who tend to be interesting on varied topics. 15 Jan., 17 Jan.

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Ice melting off my car’s windshield. 22 Jan.

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Because I have lived in small Midwestern towns where there are few myths/characterizing stories about the places (as opposed to, say, the idea about NYC that it’s exciting, or that San Francisco is artistic — simplistic stories, yes), I wasn’t distracted by these stories — I paid attention to what was here. 15 Jan.

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My career as an example of not setting goals, not being ambitious (which word has a negative history). I don’t need to portray myself as a hero or as a model. I live for me — to see how my life turns out! 16 Jan.

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I think that people who might like reading blog posts of my journal texts would be readers who might appreciate not knowing what I might say. Publishing my journals is a self-centered act, but it’s also being honest, open, maybe vulnerable — not seeking that authority that journalists and most nonfiction writers seek by trying to seem normal and reasonable in their narrative voices.  16-17 Jan.

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View of sun on a snowy day in downtown Rockford, Illinois. Church Street at Mulberry. 25 Jan.

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My lyrics to “Feels So Good”: “Feels So Good — IT feels GOOD, IT feels GOOD, you know it FEELS, FEELS, FEELS, so GOOD…” 17 Jan.

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I feel that I finally have the confidence to (publicly) be my own kind of writer, and I feel I could be satisfied being my own kind of writer. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be sure of the public value of any of my atypical, idiosyncratic writings. But I am choosing to be idiosyncratic in my publishing of my journal texts, and I’m not trying to fit into mainstream publishing. 17 Jan.

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Ronald Reagan’s 6th grade classroom, Northwest Territory Historic Center, Dixon, Illinois. 25 Jan.

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Hallway poetry, overheard before 5th hour: “My locker,/when I open it,/is gonna smell like crap,” said a sophomore (I think) girl to another girl. 17 Jan.

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What portion of all my thoughts are written down? Most of the new insights, yes, but not the daily, getting-around thoughts. 18 Jan.

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A celebrity — having celebrity-level fame — is a business opportunity for the celebrity person as well as for others. Media fame is about and for making money, not artistic quality. More to my point, if I’m not trying to sell (my writings, say), I don’t need to be a celebrity (nor try to become one). 18, 22 Jan.

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(During my morning commute, after crossing railroad tracks) Look at these things that are where they are — road signs, tree limbs, crossing-gate posts. They’re not imagined, remembered, or dreamed.  18 Jan.

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Detail of 2nd floor of a building in downtown Rockford, Illinois, on Main Street, I think. 25 Jan.

Where you’re from shapes how you talk

dialect

This is where The New York Times thinks I live, based on the results of a a quiz I took that asked me how I pronounced some words and used some terms. They got my region pegged. Several of my family members who live in the same area  said their quiz results were the same, or nearly the same as mine (in the photo above). I took the quiz a second time, this time choosing another variation of how I might say something, and this time it placed me in Rockford, Grand Rapids, or Buffalo. It’s Rockford both times.

Now, I have lived most of my life in a region where the nearest movie theaters were in Rockford. My parents grew up here, too. But my mom’s mom grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, and my dad’s parents were children of German immigrants, and so I wonder how much of my language is that of my parents, and how much is from my peers.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this list of options:

dialect_foxweddingI love the poetic qualities here — fox’s wedding, liquid son — but what American variant picks the devil is beating his wife to describe a meteorological phenomenon? I guess this one.

Reality’s ‘weiners’: Words point beyond words

From a notecard I wrote Weds., 27 Nove. 2013, after shopping at Woodman’s, a big grocery store in Rockford:

I was in the refrigerated food section, in an aisle with cheese to my right and O.J. to my left. I came up behind a cart where a boy was sitting in front and the gate was down and he was swinging his heels and kicking the gate below him. As I passed this cart, I saw a package labeled “weiners” in the cart behind the boy. These may have been in the yellow-red Oscar Meyer package, but what I remember seeing was “weiners.”

I thought how, of all the things I could have noticed — the other shoppers, the boy, the cheese, the O.J., I noticed “weiners” — I saw this, processed this visual as a word, read it, got the meaning, and what I got out of that moment was “weiners.”

I’m posting this because — well, I’m not sure. I’m posting this now maybe because I want a post that has “Weiners” in the title — or maybe I want to post something since I’ve been trying to write this post for over an hour now and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels — I’ve had some ideas but I feel like these wouldn’t do much for anybody but me.

I earlier wanted to claim that this moment described above was valuable because it was real — and because my mind somehow made me aware at the time of that present moment (“moment” implies that boundaries had been drawn around a specific duration or experience, and maybe my mind did that, too, at about the same time as it observed and read “weiners”). I was aware of myself having awareness — I was conscious of my conscious perception of “weiners.”

But now, in describing this experience, I’m relating an abstraction. I’m claiming that I really did have the experience described above, but of course, I could have made it up. It could be fiction. Either way, as fiction or nonfiction, the description above is a product of my mental experience, my inner voice that picks the words.

Lately, I’ve been wondering why I tend to value nonfiction more than fiction. Perhaps it’s because I read a lot of fiction as a young person, and I grew up with relatives that were good storytellers, but as I got into my later 20s, I started to question the value of the stories I’d been told. I started to sense that Jack Kerouac’s adventures may not have been as fun to experience as they were to read, and that my family’s stories may have unfairly characterized certain family members.

And from my memory: in the fall of my freshman year of college, I went on an after-dark hike on a trail through the woods, and my friends and I were talking about reading Tolkien, and I remember feeling excited to find other Tolkien fans, and somehow I had a feeling that night of the dark woods being linked with the glory of Bilbo’s adventures, and I remember later that same year that I wanted to write a story that could capture and convey, or recreate, that sense of specialness, an idea mixed with an experience (as if, perhaps, I was interpreting the experience as I was having it). And this is a story I now hold and am using here to explain and/or justify an attitude I’ve taken.

Maybe I don’t like fiction in that I feel nonfiction is fascinating enough — that I don’t need superheroes or fantastic plots in order to find things interesting. Just looking at a real thing — say, my cell phone that is on the desk before me — is pretty interesting. I mean, it is, and it isn’t. It’s not some great action movie, and yet, this is true, whereas everything in a Spiderman movie is not.

Real life is fascinating in its “there-ness” (I’m not sure if this is what Heidegger meant by “Dasein” — probably not — but it comes to mind that I should point it out). And even as I write here and now, I’m using conventions like “I” and “is” and “now” and “there” that are words — quite abstract words — referring to things (and “things” is abstract as hell too) that are obvious in one’s experience but hard to prove or convey. “I” is the word that I use as the source of words that I write — it’s the name for whatever is doing the experiencing that seems private to me (and here we go with the linguistic run-around, how we can define words only in terms of other words, and we can’t break across that idea/reality divide, so that everything that I think about reality is itself an idea, not reality.

“My phone is there in front of me”: “phone” is a label, sure, referring to some physical object; “My” and “me” again refer to this idea of “me-ness” (And Heidegger, in creating or redefining “Dasein,” is just again pointing out the frustrations of using language — defining his way out, which is not a solution.); “in” and “of” show relations; but “is” and “there” both seem to refer to, to make claims  of, reality — but reality (whatever “reality” the idea actually refers to) doesn’t make or need claims. The phone is there — duh. I can see and feel that it’s there without even forming that statement (unless Descartes’s evil genius is deceiving me — but I have no reason to doubt the proper function of my senses. I’ll take what seems real AS real).

And yet, there is some kind of unique value to claims made about real things. For instance, a claim about my phone made now will one day become a historical record, in a way that an old fiction cannot. Historians use, for instance, probate documents to tell us about the lives of past people such as Shakespeare. But then, statements about past people and things are merely ideas and not reality any longer.

So I can’t defend nonfiction texts as necessarily being any more real than a fiction text. We educated Westerners are trained to think of nonfiction texts as having evidentiary, and thus, argumentative, value that fictions don’t have, but then most of what we call education is training students to process abstractions in the same way teachers do.

But perhaps I value nonfiction — or, let’s say, writing about reality, writing about what’s really in front of me, and/or what thoughts really come to mind — as a way of simply coming to pay more open-minded attention to what is before me, near me. The language fails to reach outside of the realm language — language has no purchase on, cannot grip, physical things — but using language is a sign that I’m still alive (as Descartes said, roughly), and somehow consciousness seems the greatest mystery. Being alive is fascinating — and that to try to convey this through language fails utterly, of course, pointing me away from words, back toward living.

And now I realize I’ve written hundreds of words explaining why words fail to describe particular things, and I’ve ended up by detailing a hearty abstraction about why words fail to describe particular things. Distinctions fall apart, too.

I am writing this; I’m alive, and writing what I see and hear and think, these remind me I’m alive — something I don’t really need to be reminded of at all.

POSTSCRIPT, a day later: A couple following-up thoughts.

1. Maybe what seemed so odd about seeing the word “weiners” on the food packaging isn’t just that that particular word (of all the things I could be looking at) stood out to me, but also that once I had seen it, that word fully occupied my mind. I hadn’t been thinking of weiners at all, but once I saw that word, that word was in my mind, and I considered how I could call that noisy boy a weiner. The word occupied — or even, became — my mind, my crystalized thought (see here for another reference to thought crystals).

2. The post above seemed to end with me saying that the priority is to know you’re alive. Today, I’m not sure I’d defend that idea. I might instead say that simply being alive is the priority.

3. On the drive home from work tonight, I thought that the mentions above about “there-ness” could also be explained this way: that sometimes (and not always), I see something is near me, and I’m struck by that thing being there. Not surprised, exactly, but struck — like tonight, a particular leafless tree’s shape drew my attention, and I was struck by that tree being there. It wasn’t a weird or strange tree; it was just that tree. It was there. It seems dumb to use such simple words, but as the post above says, sometimes those are the deepest words, the hardest to understand.

Or last Wednesday, before I went to the grocery described above, I was eating at a fast-food restaurant and facing the low-angled southern light, and I noticed a glint of light, a perfect little speck of sunlight, coming to me from the slug of ketchup in a paper cup. It was striking — not that it was so beautiful (in the usual sense of aesthetic beauty), but that it was there, that I had noticed it, and maybe that the world is so intricate that there can be glints on ketchup.

Another time, I might not have noticed it. I see things all the time and treat them merely instrumentally, particularly when I have a task or goal as an overriding thought. At these times, I may see objects as things to step or drive around, and I may look to use a certain object to achieve an end (for instance, I may grab my keys to unlock a door) — and I may not be actually paying attention to these objects. I probably identify the car, person, or key at some basic level and I respond to each as is proper for me to accomplish my task.

But when my mind is not so task-occupied, or particularly when I am in a place I don’t often find myself, I may pay more attention to things that are (somehow I feel the need to write “are there,” but both “are” and “there” mean “exist”). And when I’m, say, visiting a friend whom I haven’t seen in a long time, his person, his presence, may not feel real at first [and “presence” itself is a whole weird thing, since it’s not directly sensible] — this is what people say, too, when something startling, like an accident, happens.  But eventually we accept these new things as real.

This question of whether something is real — whether my mind is really seeing what I think I’m seeing — plays a particular role in my obsessive checking of things: Is my stove off? I can touch the burners, and they feel cool, and I don’t see any flames, and the knobs point to “Off” — yet I tell myself to be careful, to not leave home until I’m sure the stove is off. Or when checking for traffic: if I see a car coming toward my left or right, OK. It’s when I don’t see a car that I feel I have to check multiply and to clear my head, make sure I’m really paying attention, etc.

P.P.S.: After writing the previous paragraphs, I read a link on The Dish tonight about research suggesting that brain stimulation can change a  viewer’s mindset “from a habitual mode of identifying objects to adopt an aesthetic perspective.”

Madison minus nice things = Rockford

The wonderful city of Madison, Wisconsin, is the home of the University of Wisconsin, and without that university, Madison “would be Rockford with lakes,” said Stuart Levitan in a program about the history of Madison that was recorded in 2010 and broadcast recently on the Wisconsin channel.

Ha, ha — Rockford sucks. I laugh because, well, I live near Rockford and people around here don’t seem to realize how much better things are just a few miles away, at Madison, Milwaukee, or the Chicago suburbs. So it felt like a breath of fresh honesty to hear the put-down of Rockford.

I live here because my family is from here, and because my professional license is good in Illinois. I would love for my home-area to get amenities that other places take for granted: say, a Trader Joe’s store, or a jogging/biking path, or so many things.

My former Daily Illini boss and current NPR reporter, Kelly McEvers, reported recently on her hometown of Lincoln, Illinois:

It turns out that what’s happening in Lincoln is happening in so many towns and communities across the country: As we recover from the Great Recession, jobs are coming back. But they are not middle-wage jobs — they are either high-wage jobs or low-wage jobs. The middle class is in serious decline. And that has all kinds of repercussions.

It’s a little frustrating to live in a declining area, but I’ll give it this — housing’s cheap, there’s little traffic, and with the Internet, we’re much less cut-off than we used to be.

UPDATE: It’s a couple days later, and I’m not sure what good it does to complain about the area where I live. Not that I’m changing my opinion, but that my opinion is kinda pointless. Sure, there are things I’d like to change here, but in my particular day-to-day experiences, I go to my job, I go to the grocery store, I walk my dog, and I go to bed. Very little of my daily experience has to do with demographic or economics generalizations or statistics. I try to remind myself of this, to let go of generalizations and opinions, and just keep my mind open to receive new ideas.

Rockford, Illinois: Depressing to come home to

My wife is reading Jennifer Egan’s book Look at Me, which, unlike almost the entirety of world literature, is set in Rockford, Illinois, the place I have to travel to in order to buy stuff (like, say, books, cars, clothes, and anything not marked up for the sake of its convenience). I’ve never lived in Rockford, but I’ve lived near it most of my life, and the duration of my life has not been a good period in Rockford history — factories shut down, corporations moved out, jobless rates and crime rates climbed, and Rockford frequently competes with places like Flint and Detroit, Michigan, for the highest rankings on “most miserable cities” lists. (Of course, the same list linked above put Chicago at #4 most-miserable, which doesn’t quite give credibility to the list. Chicago’s got problems, but people still actually want to live there, or near there. Literally millions of people crowd into Chicago and its suburbs rather than commuting from Rockford, which would require driving, because there’s no way to take a train for the 90-some miles from Rockford to Chicago. The “Was Metra an option today?” signs condescending to drivers on I-90 are simply mocking those of us who live near Rockford.)

By the way, I didn’t set out to live near misery — my family came to Rockford decades ago, when it was a more-prosperous community. And once our roots were established, it wasn’t always easy to notice just how bad things were getting.

But, living here, taking in what passes for local media (the poorly managed, shrinking newspaper and the farm-team broadcasters–#134 biggest!), we tend to hear a lot of empty boosterism about Rockford, such as this:

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said he disregards the Forbes ranking because it fails to recognize the positives the city has going for it.

Among those positives, he notes growth in the city’s aerospace industry and a “world class” airport, improvement in education, Woodward’s decision to expand locally, and the Rockford Park District being named the best in the country.

“Clearly, we have our challenges, but let’s offset that with some of the positives,” Christiansen said. “Unfortunately, the negatives sell magazines.”

Right, but those negatives — high crime, taxes, and unemployment — are not quite as compelling as the positives — schools no longer as institutionally discriminatory as they used to be! almost ten other cities can be flown to out of Rockford! very few wild pythons in our parks!
All this is the background info that will help convey why my wife and I are appreciating Jennifer Egan’s novel’s characterizations of Rockford:
Even as a child, riding home with my mother and Grace after a Saturday in Chicago, new dresses and Frango mints from Marshall Field’s packed carefully in our trunk, lunch at the Walnut Room still alive in our minds—even then, when the drive between Rockford and Chicago had encompassed the entire trajectory of my known world, arriving at State Street’s outer reaches, at that point practically rural, had roused in me not the lilt of home but a flat dead drone inside my head. Even then, I experienced my return to Rockford as a submersion, a forfeiture of the oxygen of life. And with every subsequent return there had been a flattening, an incursion of dreariness, as I remembered what I had come from and faced it again.
and
…room at the Sweden House’s faux-alpine façade, its little flags bearing generic coats of arms. I breathed smells of carpeting and Lysol and old cigarettes and braced myself for the familiar sensation of entombment. The Rockford thud.
and
I was alone in the middle of nowhere—worse than nowhere: the place that had made me. And now the depression, the Rockford thud whose arrival I had awaited from the moment Irene and I first drove into the city, blanketed me in its crushing, airless weight.